MOSUL/ERBIL (Iraq) • Iraqi soldiers celebrated in expectation of taking full control of Mosul as ISIS' defensive lines collapsed in its former de facto capital in Iraq, the state television reported yesterday.
Air strikes and artillery salvoes pounded the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militants' last bastion in the city as black smoke billowed over it.
Some Iraqi soldiers danced with rifles and machine guns, waving the national flag as they reached their assigned targets, without waiting for a formal victory announcement to be made.
"We are seeing now the last metres and then final victory will be announced," a television presenter said, citing the channel's correspondents embedded with security forces battling in ISIS' redoubt in the Old City of Mosul, by the Tigris river.
"It's a matter of hours," she said.
A military spokesman was cited as saying the insurgents' defence lines were collapsing.
Iraqi commanders say the insurgents are fighting for every metre with snipers, grenades and suicide bombers, forcing security forces to fight house-to-house in the densely populated maze of narrow alleyways.
A United States-led international coalition is providing air and ground support to the eight-month offensive to wrest back Mosul.
"The battle has reached the phase of chasing the insurgents in remaining blocks," the Iraqi military media office said in a statement.
"Some members of Daesh have surrendered," it added, using an Arab acronym of ISIS.
The mood was less festive, however, among some of the nearly one million Mosul residents displaced by the fighting, many of whom are living in camps outside the city.
"If there is no rebuilding and people don't return to their homes and regain their belongings, what is the meaning of liberation?" Mr Mohammed Haji Ahmed, an elderly clothing trader, said in the Hassan Sham camp, east of Mosul.
Months of urban warfare have displaced 900,000 people, about half of the city's pre-war population, and killed thousands, according to aid organisations.
Mosul was by far the largest city seized by ISIS in its offensive three years ago, when the ultra-hardline group declared its "caliphate" over adjoining parts of Iraq and Syria.
Stripped of Mosul, ISIS' dominion in Iraq will be reduced to mainly rural desert areas west and south of the city where tens of thousands live. The militants are expected to keep up attacks on selected targets across Iraq.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared the end of ISIS' "state of falsehood" a week ago, after security forces took Mosul's mediaeval Grand al-Nuri Mosque - although only after retreating militants blew it up.
The United Nations predicts it will cost more than US$1 billion (S$1.38 billion) to repair basic infrastructure in Mosul.
Iraq's regional Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani said last Thursday in a Reuters interview that the Baghdad central government had failed to prepare a post-battle political, security and governance plan.
The offensive has damaged thousands of structures in Mosul's Old City and destroyed nearly 500 buildings, satellite imagery released by the UN showed.
In some of the worst-hit areas, almost no buildings appeared to have escaped damage and Mosul's dense construction means the extent of the devastation might be underestimated, UN officials said.